I’ve Been Watching You (2001)

6986925-3

It’s a fond welcome back for David DeCoteau, one of the more enduring low-budget genre directors out there. Starting off in male-based adult entertainment, he was hired by Roger Corman, then worked for Full Moon for many years, and now produces his own movies. We’ve been covering him since “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama”;  he also did three of the “Puppet Master” sequels and has, to date, directed 127 movies. He’s a “shrewd” businessman, too, and has named a bunch of entirely unrelated movies “1313” (so “1313: Bigfoot Island” and “1313: Frankenqueen”, for example) solely so they’d show up near the beginning of Netflix searches. I’m not sure you can say “shirtless guys with shaved chests doing normal activities, plus there’s usually an 80s Scream Queen in there somewhere” makes a long-running series worth naming, but one must admire the man’s chutzpah.

“Boxer brief horror” is the term coined to describe the genre DeCoteau works inside. While he does movies with women in the lead roles, he’s up there with Albert Pyun and Ed Wood as a director who’s perfectly happy to make his sexual interests the centrepiece of his work. Pyun – body-building ladies; Wood – angora sweaters / transvestitism; DeCoteau – shirtless, hairless young men. A casual glance through his filmography will reveal dozens and dozens of DVD covers which look roughly identical – between 3 and 5 bare-chested young men, all looking very serious, always photographed as if they were in a semi-circle, almost always white; occasionally a token woman in there; heavy image processing, and a looming figure in the background (either a pair of eyes or a spooky house, usually) – and if you ever spent any time in a video shop in the early years of the new millennium, you’ll definitely have seen some of his stuff.

(In fact, if you have any favourites from this particular era with a similar cover, we’ll do a review series of video shop classics)

thebrotherhood_3

“I’ve Been Watching You” is nominally set around the world of fraternity hazing. After seeing a pledge killed by a shadowy group, we jump right into the “action”, and meet two new students, Dan and Chris. Dan is the wet blanket nerdy type, and Chris is the jock hero (he’s got a swimming scholarship). Their introductory conversation is absolutely crazy, and a perfect summation of what’s to come. There’s negative chemistry between them, and in place of banter they do a weirdly serious fake out – like Chris will threaten to beat Dan to death, leaving an awkward pause before saying “I’m joking!” – this happens five times or so during the course of things. There’s sort of a tension there, as Chris isn’t into joining groups like fraternities, and Dan wishes he was able to join them.

The plot does get going quite quickly, which is good. Chris, while biking round campus, meets the beautiful Megan and for seemingly no reason at all, she, Chris and Dan become close friends…over the course of a day. Their conversations are beyond stilted, to the extent I’m not sure if the writer or any of the actors had heard human beings speak before. What’s perhaps most surprising is, rather than exciting horror stuff, a significant portion of the action is these young people discussing their intense feelings…when, bear in mind, they’ve known each other for a day. Megan is genuinely amazing, one of the weirdest, most charisma-free performances I’ve ever seen – that actor Elizabeth Bruderman was only in one other movie is terribly sad (if you love un-acting).

thebrotherhood_4

As the camera ogles Chris, stretching after a long shirtless run, we see the guys of the evil Doma Tau Omega frat. They’re obviously the bad guys, even if the movie doesn’t tell us right away – partly because they’re dressed like lunatics (one of them is wearing a PVC shirt) – and their head is Devon, a performance of brain-buggering badness from Bradley Stryker (who must have improved, as this was his first movie and he’s still working regularly in high-level products today). He says “he’s beautiful” about Chris, and while it’s difficult to argue with him, it’s still quite a curious line; we find out later his interest in Chris isn’t the normal “wow, that guy is hot” interest,but…shall I spoil it? Ah, what the hell…he’s a centuries-old vampire, and his deal is, every hundred years he has to find a new body to inhabit, and the body in question must be already corrupted. So, Chris is sucked into Devon’s orbit, and it sort of develops from there. The three amigos go to a Doma Tau Omega party, and Chris immediately ditches his two friends to go and hang out with Devon, where he gets him drunk and then indulges in a bit of mild mutual blood-drinking. This leads to one of the many genuinely puzzling scenes in the movie.

There’s the faintest whisper of chemistry between Megan and Dan, and you think they might get together. She says “let’s go get coffee”, but rather than go and sit in a nice brightly lit coffee shop, clearly because no businesses would allow them to film, so they up sitting on a park bench in almost complete darkness (this can be compared to Chris and Devon’s scene, one of the most obvious day-for-night shots in cinema history). Dan, who – again – has known Chris for maybe two days at this point, spends the entire conversation talking about his new friend rather than the hot woman who’s doing something flirting-adjacent with him. Anyway, all he gets is a peck on the cheek, at least partly because I’m not convinced DeCoteau has got any idea how men and women actually talk to or interact with each other. Dan is such a massive wet blanket.

thebrotherhood_5

Part of the reason Devon is doing what he does is because he wants to stay in college forever. A better movie would show how pathetic such a view would be (one gets the feeling the characters from “Twilight” are tired of having to move round and keep attending different high schools), but at least Dan eventually takes matters into his own hands, breaking into the frat and discovering their not-terribly-secret book with the details of how they’ve been around for centuries. While he’s doing this, Chris is most of the way towards accepting his vampire lifestyle, including drinking the blood of a very willing woman at a party. But even this scene is incredibly homoerotic – as Devon guides Chris, the camera angle makes it look like nothing more than he’s giving him head, and it’s all about the two underwear-clad male asses on display.

Anyway, there’s a twist which you’ll be able to spot from almost the first minute of the movie, more shockingly awful acting than you can shake a stick at, more alien-written dialogue, and plenty of very cheaply-shot scenes. You might reasonably expect me to say “avoid like the plague” and just drop that Thumbs Down, but there’s more to “I’ve Been Watching You” than meets the eye.

6455-2

Well, more and less, let’s say that. It’s undoubtedly awful, a vampire movie where there’s ten times more wooden teen angst than there is vampires, where its sole reason for existence seems to be so the director could hang out with people he wanted to have sex with, but its awfulness is compelling. I wasn’t bored by it for a second, even though by any sensible analysis I should have run a mile. It’s honestly a little refreshing to have the movie not be interested in scantily-clad women at all, even if I’d rather have had some plot than the tight focus on mostly naked twinks that I got. If “Mystery Science Theater 3000” could’ve got the rights to it, it’d have made a perfect riffing opportunity for them, with lots of spaces for jokes and a weird sort of energy so everything bounces along.

So, thanks David DeCoteau, and also a minor thanks to shot-on-VHS legend J.R. Bookwalter (“Zombie Cop”) who was editor on this. And, because it wouldn’t be an ISCFC movie without it, let’s talk unusual numbering. There’s an “I’ve Been Watching You 2” (subtitled “Prom Night”, which is the reason I started down this road) but it has nothing to do with part 1, being a buy-in for the global distributors, actually made three years before this one and a comedy, apparently. In the USA, this is known as “The Brotherhood”, and to date there are 6 movies in the “Brotherhood” series, all directed by DeCoteau, all nothing to do with the rest of the series, all shirtless, all the time.

the-brotherhood-starring-samuel-page-josh-hammond-bradley-stryker-07

A bad movie gem, and definitely worth putting on the list for your next movie night.

Rating: thumbs up

Advertisements

Double Down (2005)

184442-double-down-0-230-0-345-crop

YES!! After weeks of nothing good, the ISCFC hits paydirt with one of the most amazing so-bad-it’s-good movies perhaps ever, a glorious debut from a filmmaker who’s got a strong idea of what he wants and knows exactly how to get it. The only question that anyone should have is “where can I find this movie?” because it’s an absolute guaranteed good time.

A word about actor / writer / producer / director / musical director / editor / production designer / production manager / casting guy / locations guy / catering guy Neil Breen (not a joke, he has all these jobs in the credits). He’s an architect in Las Vegas and uses the money he makes in that job to fund his own movies – in case you were wondering, he’s never had any formal training in any aspect of the movie business. He’s made three, with a fourth one ready for release soon, and they all sound absolutely fantastic. You may have heard of him already, as Red Letter Media have covered “Double Down”, and Paste Magazine made his 2009 effort “I Am Here….Now” their 21st rated b-movie of all time, but if you’ve not, please read on.

double-down-24

The first ten minutes are packed with so much insanity that I could do an entire article on them. We’re introduced to Aaron Brand, who’s had almost as many jobs as Breen had on this movie. He’s a former soldier who learned how to use computers and then became the greatest programmer ever, building the majority of the satellite systems and military applications used by the world’s governments. He’s basically the best at everything ever, and decided to become a mercenary, selling his services to the highest bidder, whoever they might be. He’s a patriot, but he’s protected himself by planting biological bombs in seven of the world’s biggest cities, that if he doesn’t send an encrypted message to them every three days, they’ll go off and kill millions. He’s got bio-electronic implants which help him be the most awesome person ever, and a ton of medals too. His fiancée, who he’s been in love with since he was seven years old, is shot and killed because he’s too awesome, and his latest job is to shut down the Las Vegas strip for a month.

Deep breath. This information is given to us via voiceover, perhaps the flattest and most boring monotone you’ll ever hear, as we see Brand go about his daily business. This involves sleeping in a car out in the desert, eating cans of tuna fish (he has hundreds of them in a box in the boot), and using one of four or five laptops and seven mobile phones, along with a satellite dish he mounts to the car, to control all the world’s computers, or whatever. For a former soldier / ultimate badass, he’s not all that tough-looking, balding with a sort of skinny-guy-gone-to-seed thing going on; and when we see him run across the rocks of the Nevada desert, he looks like he’s never done it before, coming close to falling on multiple occasions.

doubledown1

So he’s a patriot, and the movie I guess wants us to sympathise with this guy who decided to forge his own path, but…he’s prepared to kill millions of people if the Government messes with him? What about if he gets ill and needs an operation? What about if he dies out in the desert? He’s a goddamned monster! Who the hell wants to close down the Las Vegas strip for three months anyway?

I think his relationship with his fiancée is very interesting, too. There’s plenty of footage of two seven year olds running and playing, but when we see them as adults, he’s…well, Neil Breen, and she’s very obviously at least a decade younger than him. What? She’s shot and killed while the two of them are in a pool – he naked, she in a thong – and the contortions the poor actress has to go through to avoid showing her boobs to the camera is pretty wonderful (although you can’t help feeling bad for her, as presumably she was cajoled into doing it). Brand then shows his first emotion, and when she’s floating face-down in the pool, he decides to join her, although because he’s entirely naked, we get a bit more of “Little Neil” than we perhaps needed, through his legs.

double-down-17

After a quick bit of information about how some wars can’t be stopped, only for the movie to forget this part and have Brand tell us a few minutes later that he can stop or start any war with his computer skills, the plot…nope, I’m definitely not going to finish that sentence with “gets going”. The plot never gets close to getting going. He’s doing the same stuff at minute 80 that he is at minute 8, and the scenes appear spliced together basically randomly, with the exception (maybe) of the last one. Here’s a recap of what you can expect to see, should you pop on “Double Down” at a random moment:

  • Brand typing on one laptop, putting it down and typing on another laptop
  • Brand using a wrench on his satellite dish
  • Brand eating tuna
  • Brand waking up on the ground next to his car, where someone’s written “HELP ME” in blood on it
  • Brand running across the rocks

There are other actors in this movie, but they don’t appear all that often. There’s a couple of FBI agents who Brand helps bust an anthrax deal out in the desert at a ruin used for paintball – after he helps them out, the young one asks why they don’t track him, to which the veteran replies “He’s on a quest. Don’t ask, he’s protected. From the very top. Extremely top secret!” Then there’s the heads of the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security, who are gathered in Las Vegas for some reason; there’s his wife; and then there’s the couple. His “plan” involves picking up a couple from the wedding chapel where they just tied the knot, then taking them out to the desert, killing the husband, drugging the wife and then pretending she married him. I think? Only problem is, it’s the wrong couple so he just leaves them both in the desert to die! There’s a related scene where he phones up his prostitute friend and gets her to walk in front of his car so a guy is slightly distracted, and Brand can inject him with something. Even though her involvement in Brand’s plot is basically zero, she’s then murdered off screen by government agents! In case you were wondering, the couple he was supposed to pick up are also found dead in the desert, and Brand’s voiceover says they committed suicide, despite them having bullet holes in their foreheads and no guns anywhere nearby.

double-down-19

The old man in the desert and the dinner party! I just can’t believe this really happened. Brand meets an old man in the desert, who keels over dead a few minutes later, pressing a small stone into Brand’s hand (it looks like fool’s gold). Brand becomes convinced of the mystical power of this stone, and when he’s at a dinner party with a family we’ve never met before and whose identity or relationship with Brand is never mentioned, tries to use it. The father tells Brand that the little girl has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour, so Brand holds the stone in one hand and presses the other hand on the girl’s head. Later that day, he delivers the immortal line “Tonight, I believe I cured Megan of cancer”. WHAT?

The dialogue is occasionally confusing because the voiceover is delivered at the same pitch as it, and there’s no pause between the end of his internal monologue and the start of a conversation; it’s also occasionally confusing because it makes no sense at all. Brand shoots a few people at one point who remain entirely off-screen, so you’ve no idea who they are, what they’re doing or why he wants to shoot them. Despite being filmed on 35mm, it’s achieved the remarkable feat of looking like it was shot on a cheap camcorder, so hats off to Breen for that.

He causes chaos round the world as a distraction for his plan, including bringing what looks like the Japanese train system to a halt – although how much of a distraction that would be to the police in Las Vegas is never elaborated on. Then, instead of carrying out the plan, he gives up the other conspirators to the police, saying this should prove his patriotism (he really wants you to know how patriotic he is). The end!

double-down-33

Well, pretty much. It’s hard to overstate how absolutely bonkers this movie is, the insane dream of a man with no talent for filmmaking whatsoever. But, there’s a couple of odd little threads running through it. First up is the bodybag which he keeps opening, to find either his dead wife or a skeleton; he seems aware she’s dead, but thinks he can use the stone to bring her back to life (she sensibly refuses, not wanting any more time spent with this lunatic). Then there’s the “HELP ME”, and the tuna. Here’s my theory. Brand had a breakdown from his wife leaving him, and went mad, living out in the desert in his car, giving himself mercury poisoning by eating nothing but tuna; everything we see is his dying hallucination, including the end when he and his wife, returned to him but sitting in the back seat like he’s her chauffeur, drive off into the sunset. It’s the sort of idle daydream of enormous power (what if I was the best secret agent ever?) that we’ve all had at one time or another.

Okay, it’s probably not that, but there’s stuff in this movie which doesn’t make sense in a new way. What it definitely indicates is that Neil Breen is a filmmaker worth watching. The best movies right at the bottom of the pile are almost always singular visions, and this is 100% from the fevered subconscious of one man.

doubledown_screenshot

I could honestly write about this film all day. It’s among the least entertaining movies ever made, with understanding a great deal further away at the end than it is at the beginning. But, the truly wretched are always interesting in ways that cookie-cutter Hollywood products just aren’t, so if you want to see a real genuine un-movie, then this could be for you.

Rating: thumbs up

Vampire Cop (1990)

Now that's how you do a tagline!

Now that’s how you do a tagline!

As a bad movie enthusiast, I occasionally worry about running out of the really weird, low-budget movies whose reviews have littered these pages and which have become so famous. I think “there’s only a finite amount, right? One day I’ll have seen the last really bonkers one”; but every time I feel that way, I pop on something like this and discover a masterpiece.

 

This may be a tricky movie to track down, especially on this side of the Atlantic, and not just because it’s fairly obscure. There are lots of self-published “dark romance” novels about vampires and cops, the Rick Springfield “Forever Knight” pilot has been renamed “Twilight Vampire Cop” by some enterprising soul, there’s a Japanese film called “Vampire Cop Ricky”, another movie called “Vampire Cop” from 1993 which was eventually renamed “Midnight Kiss”…but of this, no trace. Hell, if “Hollywood Cop” and “Demon Cop” can get distribution and bad-movie love, this deserves to be there with them!

Vampire Cop (1)

The first ten minutes of the movie, as well as having one of the most amazing opening songs of all time, appears to be the psychic visions of a sleeping Melissa Moore (who we loved in “Samurai Cop”, talking of amazingly bad movies whose titles end with that word). Some drug deals go down, a guy appears to buy two women from a bikini beauty contest (?), a scumbag tries to rape a woman, and we meet the mysterious backlit vampire. Over and over again, the guy is backlit, even after we know who it is and it makes no sense for him to be stood that way – well, it might make more sense to say they repeat the same bit of footage, a complaint we’ll return to later. Moore is Melanie Roberts, a TV news reporter, and after being approached by a woman who the vampire saves from rape, decides to do some investigation.

 

Our hero is amazingly billed on IMDB as “Vampire Cop Lucas”, just in case you confused him with one of the movie’s other Lucases, and is played by a guy called Ed Cannon, for whom this was his one and only acting credit. He’s bloody terrible, in case you were wondering, but I’m kinda interested in how he got the role, and his acting seems to mainly consist of baring his awful vampire teeth and slowly walking towards people who are shooting at him. Well, that and sex. The love scenes are enough to make me bored of sex, as they just go on and on, making sure the man is as fully covered, and the woman as naked, as possible. Poor Melissa Moore has to take a phone call related to her job with one of her boobs hanging out!

Vampire Cop (4)

I’ve still not really described the plot of the movie, have I? The local drug kingpin wants to keep the cops and reporters off his back, and does this by giving lots of money to charity (and killing a surprising number of people, including taking a chainsaw to a police Lieutenant who’d just gone on the air to say he was going to bring the guy to justice!) He realises Lucas is a vampire and wants the power for himself, while Lucas, on the other hand, despite having lived for over a century, has inexplicably become sloppy, biting his enemies and letting them turn into way more powerful enemies. He’s also not exactly a nice guy, being seen killing and eating at least one prostitute – which was perhaps justified as cleaning up the streets? God knows. Anyway, good ol’ Vampire Cop kills and eats his way to victory, with Moore pretty much just along for the ride (although she does finish off the last bad guy by exposing him to sunlight, and then is given perhaps the stupidest ending of any movie ever).

 

Somewhere in this movie is a sense of humour. The news producer talks about his favourite former segments, which include “Transsexual House Pets” and “Men Who Name Their Testicles”, and one of the Kingpin’s goons (no names on IMDB, so I can’t narrow it down) is clearly having a good time. But these moments which are funny on purpose are few, and far between. The stuff which is brain-hurtingly bad by accident is far more plentiful.

I've got no idea why this bloke was in the movie

I’ve got no idea why this bloke was in the movie

I’d lay good money on this movie having an interesting backstage story. First up, it’s only 82 minutes, with an extremely slow credit sequence taking up a good 7 of them. The Vampire Cop just disappears a few minutes before the end, never to be seen again, which makes me wonder if he was a little “difficult” – also, check out the number of times the same footage of him driving his car and standing there backlit is repeated over the course of the movie. And then there’s the slow motion! Almost every scene has some slow-mo in it, including those for which it actually works against the story, or is just meaningless (Moore running down some stairs at her beach-house, for example). So, if you take out the credits and the repeated footage, speed up the irrelevant slow motion, and halve the sex scenes (which would still leave you with a heck of a lot of sex) this movie would be about half an hour long. But it’s a fun, bizarre half an hour!

 

It’s a movie set in a variety of ugly spaces. One scene set in Moore’s bedroom pans across a little too far so you can see the other bed in what is very obviously a hotel room; in fact most of the movie seems like it was filmed on the fly in whatever cheap motel had an offer on that day. To this barrage on the senses, you can add the cheap, gaudy cars that everyone drives too – drug dealers and cops alike.

hqdefault

I feel bad for Moore, exploited in movies like this and “Samurai Cop”, and I feel bad for that one good actor (not enough to find out his name, obviously). But everyone else pretty much deserves whatever they get. Writer/director Donald Farmer appears to have spent his career making movies of this sort – “Cannibal Hookers”, “An Erotic Vampire In Paris” and “Chainsaw Cheerleaders”, among others. If only they’re all as wonderfully terrible as this!

 

Wholeheartedly recommended (if you can find it) for your next bad movie night.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Cybernator (1991)

Cybernator

Normally, playing a game of “hey, it’s That Guy” (or “That Gal”) is fun, when you’re watching something big-budget. However, when you’re watching a sub-sub-bargain-basement film like “Cybernator” and you start to recognise people from “Samurai Cop” and the “Nuke Em High” films, then you might need to start asking yourself some serious questions.

The IMDB summary of this is succinct and perfect. “In the future, an L.A. cop whose girlfriend is a stripper uncovers a conspiracy concerning killer cyborgs.” I’m half tempted to do the film reviewer equivalent of drop my mic and walk off the stage at this point, but there’s plenty of fun stuff to talk about.

Brent McCord is the LA cop, and if you’ve seen literally any film from the 80s, you’ll recognise the basics. Leading political and military figures are being killed and he’s just trying to do his job. Plus, there are cyborgs around! I sort of wondered if they were going for some racial tolerance thing, but the cyborgs are all evil and deserve to get shunned in the street and eventually shot to pieces.

001545_16

“Cybernator” may put you off going to see strippers for ever. The strip club is incredibly ugly and atmosphere-free, and I think director Robert Rundle should have just hired a couple of real strippers because it’s not like he could have possibly found a worse actress; combine that with stripping that looks like a jazzercise class for people with broken hips, and you’ve got a recipe for a bad time. Talking of ugly locations, the two virtually identical offices used by the police captain and the army Colonel are so nondescript that your eyes fight to stop looking at the screen – although a good spot from my wife was a bar right at the front of the shot in the Army office, which indicates they were filming in the corner of an old-fashioned bank (perhaps one of the cast worked there as a day job and snuck them in to film).

They’ve never met a cop movie cliche they didn’t love, either – we get the big “you’re off this case” speech, and the main guy hands in his badge at one point. We even get the girlfriend giving it the “please don’t go”  to McCord as he’s about to go after the androids, even if it’s about half an hour too early for it to really work. But they try! If you’ve seen any of the films we’ve reviewed here, you’ll see the twist coming a mile away, but it’s not a bad twist, just slightly over-used.

It’s not all cliches, though, like when they go to speak to the coroner, and it’s an Asian woman. She’s not there for comic relief or to be an exotic romantic encounter, she’s just a normal, friendly woman doing her job. Noticing it made me realise how rare that sort of character is, even now, and how completely unknown it was back in 1992, especially in American cinema. Good on you, “Cybernator”.

This film also has one of the longest and least erotic love scenes I’ve seen. My wife went in the kitchen to make herself a drink at the beginning of it, and as the lovemaking was accompanied by awful music, she could hear it and kept saying “is that damn scene still going on? Seriously?” I feel like the occasional shot of a breast (while all we see of the man is a bare chest) is like the tenth worst thing about that scene.

cybernator04

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Now, this is a film with rotten acting (the lead, Lonnie Schuyler, is so bad as to almost defy belief), cliches stacked a mile high, perhaps the worst soundtrack ever, ugly sets and terrible special effects, including but not limited to cyborgs with bits of metal glued to their face, lasers that are sort of near the gun they’re supposed to be coming from, but you know what? I really enjoyed it. It’s a throwback to the days of Ed Wood, when clueless directors, bored / incompetent actors, terrible special effects and awful scripts combined to make real “so bad it’s good” movies. This film definitely belongs in the pantheon of great bad movies, and I definitely recommend it for your next bad movie night.

And it’s available for free on Youtube! I didn’t mention the Troma connection, but they evidently bought the rights to it (they had nothing to do with its production) and as they’ve put up their entire back catalogue on Youtube, knock yourselves out.